Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

“It Was the Worst Day of My Life” zeroes in on the two central storylines of How To Get Away With Murder’s first season. There’s the continuation of Nate Sr.’s trial, which is newly reinvigorated with emotional stakes thanks to a letter that Nate wrote at 14-years-old resurfacing. But what really anchors “It Was the Worst Day of My Life” is its exploration of Bonnie’s deterioration in the wake of learning that her sister kidnapped her baby and that Nate has been working to investigate what happened.

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As usual, How To Get Away With Murder is nuanced and deft in its handling of trauma and mental health. There’s weight in every sentence Bonnie utters. She confronts Nate at the beginning of the episode, her mere, slumped presence making it clear to him that he fucked up with his meddling. “You ripped open the part of my life that I killed myself to get past,” she says, her body crumpled and uncaring. “You did what you did, and now I’m left with it.” That resolved, exhausted feeling of deep depression is so fully felt in the performance Liza Weil gives.

“I’m not going to do anything stupid,” Bonnie tells Annalise and Frank, the kind of blunt promise someone in her position feels they have to make in order to assure the people around them. This portrait of a trauma victim who has struggled with suicidal feelings is strikingly real. Even though How To Get Away With Murder so often goes off the rails, it’s devastatingly grounded and convincing in moments like this.

Tasked with keeping a watch over her, Frank temporarily moves into Bonnie’s apartment, bringing back their complicated dynamic. He tells her no one deserves to be happy more than her. He knows her well, and he knows what she has been through, and his genuine care for her well being, his insistence that she can just do nothing about this revelation and continue to move forward with her life is compelling.

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Bonnie’s ability to form new relationships with people is intensely fraught. In some ways, she and Asher didn’t work because he found out about her past (without her consent). And that’s why she was initially drawn to Miller; he didn’t know. He liked her for who she was and didn’t make her feel defined by her trauma. But at the same time, the people who do know about her past—like Annalise and Frank—are the ones who are the most consistently there for her, who she doesn’t have to explain herself to. A wall understandably goes up between her and Miller in this episode, and after facing the file, Bonnie decides to break down that wall. She discloses her past on her own terms for one of the first times we’ve seen. It’s one of the most vulnerable things she has ever done, and Miller rightfully recognizes her bravery. Finally, Bonnie has control over her own narrative, and it hits hard.

The Nate Sr. storyline is similarly tackled in a way that acknowledges how complex and intensely emotional the situation is. While Annalise is very busy trying to prove Nate Sr. was insane at the time of murdering another inmate, he prosecutor attempts to use a letter written by Nate to sway the case. Written when he was just 14-years-old, the letter from Nate paints his father as a bad man who deserved to remain incarcerated. Nate lies on the stand, saying that he doesn’t remember writing it, but he starkly does. He saw his father arrested so many times, that he became conditioned at a young age to think that his father was bad and the police officers were good.

It’s the same punishing, cyclical system that had such a profound effect on his father, and How To Get Away With Murder treats the issue with the depth and complexity it deserves. It’s clear that Nate Sr. was wronged by the system, but it’s also clear that Nate Jr.’s feelings of abandonment were completely valid, too. “It Was the Worst Day of My Life” is one of the most effective episodes of the series so far in capturing the emotional weight of this particular storyline. Annalise’s testimony at episode’s end is particularly effective, a silence permeating the episode in a way that’s hard to describe because of how unprecedented it is for television. It’s immediately affecting, and then the longer it goes on, the more revolutionary it feels. That silence drives home the weight of this case and the underlying social justice issue. How To Get Away With Murder is explicit in its condemnation of the criminal justice system and solitary confinement.

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This episode temporarily sidelines the flashforward convention, skipping over it in the beginning and only returning to it at the end. It feels like a very small and inconsequential part of the episode, and that’s a good thing, because its suspense pales in comparison to the rest of the episode’s emotional weight.


Stray observations

  • Connor’s frustration with Annalise isn’t nearly as compelling as everything else happening in the episode, and his rivalry with Gabriel still feels forced even though there’s at least a more concrete reason for it now that Annalise replaced him with Gabriel.
  • Laurel and Gabriel become closer, bonding over their parents’ mental health issues.
  • Frank spying on them bonding is disturbing.
  • Everything about Weil’s physicality in this episode so aptly conveys deep, dark depression. She really does deserve more attention for her acting on this show.
  • As much as I like their character work in the episode, Nate Sr.’s reconciliation with his son happens...a little too quickly.

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